Accountability tests are not going away! They are here to stay. In the beginning, there were good reasons for wanting such assessments. We need to know how our children are doing. We need to know if there are gaps in achievement between various groups. We need to be able to use assessments as a guide for instruction. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get that information, and truly use it as a GUIDE instead of the end all and be all that it has become? Instead of tearing teachers and schools down, what if these tests could become beacons of hope and strength and a search for real learning?
How can we change this stressful and condemning testing system? Well I have an idea for the state. You may very well laugh and say – How absurd! At least I am trying to think of ways to stop this testing era and instruction that is geared to the test.
Let me begin with the SAT’s and the ACT’s. Students in high school can take these tests many times to improve their scores. Students can study for these tests – they can get workbooks in bookstores with like questions to help prepare them. There are on-line practice tests. Students can even take classes on how to prepare for these tests and receive help on practice items. If a student wants to practice and be well prepared – options to do so are open to them. This is not considered cheating.
Now, contrast this to grade school accountability tests. Teachers are not supposed to teach to the test. Teachers are not supposed to give like questions that might appear on tests. Teachers receive training on how they are not to talk about questions that are on the test. Teachers have to sign documents that say they will not share information from any of these tests. Teachers are not even allowed to talk with each other about test items. State standards are established learning items that the state expects to be taught and might show up on these tests. There are so many standards that there is no way a teacher can cover them adequately to prepare students for deep understanding. So you go to core standards – the main ones. Then you have to break the standards apart to see what they are actually saying. And then you have to decide how you should teach those standards, and come up with focus lessons that address them. You have to make sure that all possible vocabulary is introduced. Some kids can’t even understand what a question is asking, so they cannot demonstrate their knowledge. Teachers have to make sure that they have taught students persistence and stamina so they don’t melt down during the test…
So what do we do? My suggestion is to make the state accountability test prep more like the ACT and the SAT. Allow students to practice like questions throughout the year. Allow test prep and test taking strategies to relieve stress. Provide meaningful practice for students. I would recommend that this type of practice take place before or after the school day and during summers. Interventionists and English Language teachers could then practice for tests like I-Read, WIDA, and the State Test. Then classroom teachers could get back to “real” teaching. They could again teach science and social studies. They could use inquiry and student interests to guide instruction. We wouldn’t worry that recess is taking away from learning time. We wouldn’t require some students to miss art or music so they could receive further instruction to help with passing the test. All students could receive a well rounded education. English Language Learners would not have to be pulled out of the regular education classroom to make sure they improve on WIDA. All students would be given quality instruction. The classroom could again become a community of learners instead of fragmented groupings throughout the day.
You might not agree with my solution, but that’s okay. What would you suggest that would help our children? As long as there are accountability tests – we will have teaching to the tests. You have to because the reputation of the teachers and the schools depend on how students do on these tests. While I like that we have focused more on growth rather than a set score for grading schools, I have seen schools figure out exactly how many students that they will need to show improvement. We shouldn’t have to figure that out – we should just do our very best to make sure every student improves. I have also seen interventionists and English Language teachers take kids for pull out programs that do not need this type of help because they know these children will show improvement. They have to show that that the program is successful. This is not how we should be operating. We should be giving kids what they really need not what shows a program’s success.
So I say let teaching to the test happen but in a different way. Allow teachers to get back to the real job of educating our children!